Tales of the Supernatural

Compiled by Nasario Garcia, SFAOL Contributor and author of
Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas: Tales of Witchcraft
and the Supernatural in the Pecos Valley

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nasario Garcia, Ph. D., who teaches at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM, is a native of New Mexico's Rio Puerco Valley and is well-known for his bilingual books on the folklore of the state. Over the past decade he has conducted dozens of interviews with elderly Hispanic residents of the Pecos Valley, gathering their tales of witchcraft and the supernatural. As a special feature, Santa Fe Always Online (SFAOL.com) is pleased to present a selection of these stories, taken from his book Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas  (Witches, Ghosts, and Red-Hot Coals).

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO BRUJAS, BULTOS, Y BRASAS:

One would venture to say that there is no Hispano, including this author, who grew up in rural New Mexico within the last 40 or 50 years who is not capable of recounting an eerie story or two related to witchcraft and its supernatural trappings, thanks to the prominent role of la aguelita (the grandmother).

We as grandchildren at the ranch looked up to my paternal grandmother as the principal storyteller responsible for entertaining (or frightening) us at bedtime. Given her versatility as a raconteur, her narratives ranged from pleasant fairy-tale-type stories to those that scared the dickens out of us, such as la cosa mala (an evil spirit) or el coco (the bogeyman).

As a small boy I heard scores of stories of the supernatural that are recounted in one form or another up and down El Valle, the Rio Pecos valley. Recollections of brujas (witches), el diablo (the devil), bultos (ghosts), el mal ojo (the evil eye), una persona enyerbada (a bewitched person), and many other superstitions are but a few examples. We siblings invariably were even beneficiaries (or victims!) of a trick or two coming from our own parents playing the role of bogeyman.

Some animals that purportedly possessed supernatural powers were el burrito (the donkey), snakes, the coyote, and el tecolote (the owl). Other superstitious beliefs prevalent in my household dealt with sorcery-like powers. For example, if my brother or I went to milk a cow in the morning and found that it had no milk, it was believed that a mamona (milk snake) had sucked the milk from the cow's udder, which now was dry because of the evil intrusion.

Perhaps no single type of story fascinated me more than those of the supernatural. Whether related to balls of fire, polvitos (witch powders), sparks emitting from a chimney in an old abandoned adobe home, a farol (lantern) burning brightly at night in my grandfather's empty house while he was away, chains rattling at night, or finding shiny apples on our doorstep, all contained magical power or an evil element (la cosa mala) that intrigued me.

Children of past generations have been fascinated by stories related to the supernatural. As the eminent historian Marc Simmons reminds us in his excellent work Witchcraft in the Southwest: "Practically every adobe hamlet and town on the Rio Grande once possessed its own stories and traditions of witches, were-animals and supernatural events."

Since the late 1980s, I have made countless trips to El Valle to interview and photograph dozens of residents on a variety of subjects related to their lives in their villages. On each occasion, whether I was meeting someone for the first time or renewing old acquaintances, I was greeted with open arms. In every instance I was enriched by their reminiscences and words of wisdom.

At the time of the interviews (1989-1996) the 26 men and women featured in Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas were in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. One of the most endearing qualities about the people from El Valle is their positive outlook on life. As they reflect on their lives, they do so with a great sense of contentment. Now in their golden years, they are very much at peace with themselves, for they sense in their hearts that their mission as parents, grandparents and community people, through good and bad times, has been fulfilled and hence brought them a special happiness.

The storytellers in this corpus of oral literature, each with a distinct personality, are proud and humble people who expressed a special enthusiasm as they related the stories on witchcraft in their own manner and style.

--Nasario Garcia, 1999

To order Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas or other books by Nasario Garcia, visit Amazon.com


Indigestion

As told by Clara S. Ortiz, San Jose, NM, born 1912

One time my daughter, the one who now lives in Albuquerque, got indigestion. She was about 4 years old. Oh! She wouldn't let us sleep at night. She cried and cried and she didn't want to eat, so we took her to the doctor. Her stomach just kept hurting.

We took her to a doctor who was quite young at the time. My husband Roman was working there at the Dead Horse Ranch, or someplace close by. The doctor said, "She has something stuck in her stomach, but I don't know what it is." But he gave her some medicine.

The indigestion is born in the intestine, and that's where it grows. Water, candy and many other foods also are the cause, but candies and water are the worst ones for indigestion. That I know, because of expeience.

Roman came home and said, "I'm going to call on my Uncle Manuel Sanchez." And since you have a short fuse and can't hold back your tongue when you're young, I said to him: "Humbug! What does that old man know?"

But Roman didn't pay any attention to me. He went and called on his uncle anyway, and brought him to the house. "Oh, my little one," he would say, and rub his hands this way and that. "Why, look at the electricity in my hands. I'll massage your precious daughter in just a little bit."

All I could do was listen. Well, he massaged her back, and she remained very silent. He massaged her, and her back cracked, because that's what happens to your back. When it cracks it's because the indigestion has cut loose from the intestine. The child had quite a case of indigestion. Well, no sooner had Uncle Manuel come and gone when our little girl got hungry, so I made her some atole, blue corn gruel, which is good for the stomach.

I gave some to Roman too, who hadn't eaten since he arrived home from the Dead Horse Ranch. "What did I tell you, Clara?" he said, rubbing it in. "The old man's OK, isn't he?"

It's a good thing I paid close attention. My mother also gave massages for indigestion. That's how I learned, and I also taught myself. For a long time I used to give massages. They would bring me these little girls, quite often in fact, from there in San Juan, with all types of indigestion. And I used to massage them.

I would massage them first, you see. I'd rub them until the indigestion would loosen up, and then I'd snap the skin, and if it didn't crack they weren't suffering from indigestion. The skin has to crack when you snap it. The poor children complained, because it hurt.

After the massage I would give them a teaspoon full of bluing with salt, a lot of salt, followed immediately with a glass of water. Many times they'll rub you with an egg. I never did that. I only rub with my hands and then pull the skin. I pull the skin and snap it.

"And how much are you going to charge me?" they'd say to me after I finished. "No. One doesn't sell the remedy," I would tell them. "All that's important is for the little girls to get well, and that's it."

To order Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas or other books by Nasario Garcia, visit Amazon.com

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